Friday, November 11, 2016

Fajitas, an Authentic Mexican Dish?

The answer to that is sort of yes, and sort of no. The Spanish word “faja” means belt or girdle; and refers to the cut of meat known as “skirt steak”. The word “fajita” means a smaller version of the skirt steak itself, or the thin strips cut to create the fajita filling. Grilling meat was not a new style of cooking for the Mexican culture, nor for America; but Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) introduced their American counterparts to their style. Many parts of cattle were discarded, such as the skirt, or given to the ranch hands in lieu of monetary compensation for their work. The meat needed to be grilled to remove the membrane, or “silver skin”, from both sides; it helped keep juices in, but was still too tough to ingest.  Even today, many cuts of beef from the market retain the “silver skin” under that layer of fat left attached.  That price per pound you just paid for includes the section you’re going to throw away.  Marinating the meat all day, or night, guarantees tough beef will be tender and flavorful, but that came later on in culinary history.

A historical piece called “Fajitas, South Texas Style”, done at Texas A&M University by Mary K. Sweeten and Homer Recio, established that this could be traced as far back as the 1930’s in Texas; hence the beginning of what is called “Tex-Mex” cuisine.  (Go to: for the full story.)

While the fajita originally contained beef, nowadays it can contain chicken, pork, seafood, or a combination of these items. Other typical ingredients served with the fajita are onions, shredded lettuce, bell and/or hot peppers, Spanish rice, refried beans, cheese and condiments such as sour cream, salsa and guacamole. Wrapped in warm tortillas, the fajita becomes the perfect little type of sandwich; packed with food and flavors.  Personally, I’m a minimalist, I want to taste the grilled meat, chicken or seafood, and vegetables; so I typically add a little cheese and sour cream.  However some fajitas I’ve seen have been so packed with extras, the tortilla could barely have the ends meet.  Hmm, does that make it a “taco” now, instead of a fajita?

While delving into the history of cuisines might be a bore to most, I see it as knowledge gained.  With all the stories I write, about San Juan County, in my travel blog; many residents have outright stated that I’ve become a bit of a historian in my own right.  Basically, I’m keeping the knowledge of history, whether food or geographically related, alive; and we all know that knowledge is power.





2 lbs. sirloin or round steak, cut into 2” x ¼” strips

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2” x ¼ “strips
2 large onions, cut into ¼” strips
1 large each red, yellow and green bell peppers, cut into ¼” strips
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 dozen 8” tortillas (corn or flour)


½ cup canola oil

½ cup white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
1 ½ Tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper



Refried Beans
Sour Cream
Shredded Mexican Blend or Sharp Cheddar Cheese


Put steak and chicken strips in two separate sealable plastic bags. Prepare marinade by placing all ingredients listed under Marinade into small bowl and whisking together. Divide marinade between the two bags; seal and refrigerate overnight. In a third plastic bag, place the onion and pepper strips, black pepper, garlic powder, 2 Tbsp. oil inside; gently shake to mix together and also refrigerate overnight with steak and chicken.


When ready to make fajitas, separately cook steak, chicken and vegetables in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Cook steak and chicken until no pink is showing; cook vegetables until tender. For the tortillas, heat a 10” skillet or stove top griddle on medium-high heat; warm tortillas for 30 seconds on each side.

Serve steak, chicken, vegetables and tortillas with items listed under Garnish, so each serving can be made as desired.

Makes 12 servings.

Mary Cokenour


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